The Side Hustle: How to make it reality

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Many very smart, successful entrepreneurs are all about reducing risk, testing the business concept on the side, keeping their day job and turning a hobby into a little bit of extra income. In a word, they have a side hustle. This isn’t just the big, massive success stories from Silicon Valley like Warby Parker, where all the founders kept their regular jobs for several months while starting a business that sells glasses online; I found more and more entrepreneurs in our own Southeast Missouri backyard that had steady jobs while exploring their own business opportunity in the evenings and on weekends.

In recent years, we’ve seen a steady increase in people asking questions about how to start a side business. The rise of extra income from freelancing, blogging, Airbnb hosting, teaching an evening class, selling on Etsy, making a product and selling it at farmers markets or any other creative way of having a side hustle is a good indicator of a growing trend. While we don’t yet have hard data to show the economic impact of the this side-gig economy, we know it matters.

On a platform like Etsy, domestic sales from sellers increased from $1.67B in 2015 to $2.50B in 2017. Some of these are full-time businesses, but a lot are regular individuals making something crafty in their spare time and with it, pulling in a few extra dollars.

Various national studies conducted in recent years give us an idea of the importance of the side-gig economy:

An estimated 57.3 million people freelanced in 2017, contributing an estimated $1.4 trillion in freelance earnings to the economy, according to

“Alternative work arrangements” rose from 10.1 percent of workers in 2005, to 15.8 percent in 2015, according to the study “The Rise and Nature of Alternative Work Arrangements in the United States, 1995-2015.”

26 percent of U.S. workers say they would consider exiting the traditional workplace to work as a freelancer or independent contractor, according to

Put differently, there’s money in the side-gig economy, and it’s not likely to go away.

A great example of a side-hustler is Travis Bickings from Oran, Missouri. Travis, a United States Marine Corps Veteran, works full-time as a field representative for Verisk while he creates and produces barbecue rubs on the side with his company, Shot in the Dark. Travis is what you might call a true barbecue extraordinaire who actively participates in competitions. He started developing his own rubs years ago and decided to turn it into a business with his own label and brand that includes more than 15 unique flavors, including a sweet heat fajita rub, sweet cherry, pineapple party and French toast sprinkles. All of this is accomplished by managing his regular day job and working on barbecue rub recipes in the evenings, on weekends and any other time he can.

“One thing for anyone considering a side hustle is to ensure to do it for the passion above all else,” Travis says. “The passion — or lack of — will most definitely show through to the product you are presenting. For the past few months, I have been putting in 90-100 hours per week between my job and my BBQ.”

While there’s no one right way to get your side-gig off the ground, there are many important questions and considerations:

How can you keep your financial investment minimal while still getting something started?

How much time can you really set aside while still maintaining other responsibilities? Hint: it almost always requires more time than you expect. If you have a family, it’s usually a good idea to check in with them and get their full support (and maybe even some help).

Turning a hobby into a “job” runs the risk of sucking the fun out of it. Are you okay with that?

How will you know if you’re ready to turn your side hustle into a full-time job? If you’re in it to make money, treat it like a real job and have set hours within the week to work on it.

And perhaps most importantly, why is this important to you? What’s your key motivator?

At our Small Business and Technology Development Center (SBTDC), we provide no-cost assistance to aspiring entrepreneurs and business owners looking to start, grow and succeed. This includes business concept development, strategic planning, business planning, financial planning, market research and exporting. If you want to succeed with a side hustle, the best thing you can do is reach out for help and feedback from different resources. This could include SBTDC, Chambers of Commerce, industry professionals, mentors and other entrepreneurs. You have to start to make something happen, but you don’t have to start all on your own.